Last Night's Television: Don't Try This at Home ; HOME / BBC4 SAS - THE REAL STORY / C4
Sutcliffe, Thomas, The Independent (London, England)
Here's Antony Sher, respectably dressed and getting ready for his first day at the office after a long convalescence. His surroundings are impeccably suburban: a substantial Twickenham semi with wall-to- wall parquet and a company car in the drive way. And since you know that Home is based on the J G Ballard story, The Enormous Space, you can be virtually certain that before the hour is up Sher's character will be reduced to a state of homicidal savagery, that every civilised concealment will slough away like a snake's skin. Ballard doesn't really have themes, he has obsessions, and the fragility of social norms is one of the most abiding of them. Respectability is never solid in his works; it's the merest skin over a life of basic instincts.
Home was about Ballantyne, a food scientist recovering from a serious car crash who decides to become a domestic Robinson Crusoe. As he sets off for his first day back at the office, he gets a sudden flashback of crumpled bodywork and suture marks, and retreats behind his front door to begin "the Experiment", an attempt to subsist in suburbia. To secure his resolve, his very first act is to make a bonfire of everything that connects him to society. He burns his money, his credit cards, his passport and his birth certificate, a scene which carries an oddly powerful frisson of prohibition, which is entirely typical of Ballard.
Richard Curson-Smith, who wrote and directed this adaptation, cleverly equipped Ballantyne with a video camera, with which he recorded his growing derangement in a series of confessional monologues. Ballantyne initially lives off the contents of his larder and freezer, but when they run out he rigs up a lethal animal trap and begins to harvest the local pets.
Where Ballard's story was obliquely funny, Curson-Smith's drama was openly so, and it included one winning scene in which Sher appeared to have corpsed in mid-take, an attack of the giggles which nicely matched the mood of mounting hysteria. As the cats and poodles start to get thin on the ground, and Ballantyne succumbs to malnutrition, he also becomes convinced that various spaces in the house are enlarging, a hallucination which Curson-Smith had brought off marvellously well on what was presumably a fairly limited budget. …